Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Paul McGuigan
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves
(Not Rated, 88 min.)
"There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life." Arthur Conan Doyle
It’s high octane irreverent, with revved up wit, pace, and humor. If you can cope with Sherlock Holmes as a self-described “high functioning sociopath” gleefully traipsing around modern day London on the heels of a serial killer, you’re going to love this Masterpiece Theatre rendition now available on Netflix.
Even purists will have to admit that this newest addition to the Holmes canon retains its essentials. The title is a tongue in cheek nod to A Study in Scarlet, the first work featuring the iconic consulting detective penned in 1887 by 27-year-old physician Arthur Conan Doyle. This time, however, the murder investigation does not arrange itself around “the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life,” but around a very fashionable pink overnight bag belonging to an apparent suicide victim.
Although the redoubtable Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) is a bit put off by his unbounded enthusiasm for the now four possible suicides, tut-tutting that his happiness at this fact is somehow not decent, the young Homes is undeterred by his landlady’s remarks. He sees no point in sitting at home when “there’s finally something fun going on. Who cares about decent? The game, Mrs. Hudson, is on!”
And that new spin on the Victorian Holmes’ call to arms, “The game is afoot,” itself harkening back to Shakespeare, says it all. The “game” for our modern Holmes is not the prey that lures the hunter, but a highly competitive form of play, sport, and risk.
For all his modern trappings, this modern Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is every bit as arrogant as his earlier penned counterpart, if not more so. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and has no compunctions about saying so. Brutal as he is to Watson:
"Because you're an idiot." (Pause) "Oh, don't look at me like that. Practically everyone is."
This Holmes is even more so to the police:
Dear God, what is it like in your tiny little brains? It must be so boring. You're all so vacant. Is it nice not being me? It must be so relaxing.
Both he and the police hold each other in mutual contempt, but they each need each other … when they are desperate enough. They for his brains, *Holmes for access to their official connections to blood and mayhem. Is it any wonder that certain members of Scotland Yard will not even work with him when he forbids them to talk out loud, since it “lowers the IQ of the whole street”? He even tells Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves), to “shut up,” despite the fact that the inspector is not saying a word. “You’re thinking and it’s annoying.”
This Holmes can, like Doyle’s creation, turn on his manipulative charm when necessary, as we watch how he coaxes favors out of the hospital lab assistant simply by noting that she is wearing lipstick. Sadly, when she suggests a coffee, he purposely ignores her romantic implications and says that he’ll have his black with two sugars.
Of course, as in A Study of Scarlet, Holmes deduces all the essentials about Watson within a few moments of their introduction. Perhaps most interesting is his observation that Watson has been invalided home from either Iraq or Afghanistan, a point of English history uniting the Victorian and contemporary Holmes not lost on the savvy scriptwriters.
The new script also offers old tropes with a new twist. This is a high tech Holmes who communicates with texting instead of a telegram and advertises on his own website instead of writing stuffy monographs. Forget Victorian journals; Watson chronicles the sleuth’s adventures on his own blog. Many of the breakthroughs in this case revolve around a pink cell phone belonging to one of the deceased. Like the famous dog in the night that alerted us by not barking, its absence is a red flag to Holmes. Another high tech addition – the white lines of text that appear across the screen to alert us to Homes’ deductions as he examines details. For instance, when he looks at a wedding ring, “dirty” lights up the screen; when he takes it off and examines the inside, “clean” appears. What Holmes does with these facts is amazing, but we are spared the sometimes awkward rehashing of these elementary inferences that tends to bog down much of detective fiction.
Mrs. Hudson is given a makeover of sorts; she is a fashionable widow and strangely grateful to Holmes for making her one. And in modern fashion, she reminds her renters that she is their landlady, not their housekeeper and cook, though she still manages to fulfill both those functions more than she might admit. Martin Freeman’s Watson has none of the blundering bluff of Nigel Bruce who was the early films opposite to Basil Rathbone, the first introduction many of us had to Holmes. Indeed, his character is given more depth and psychological weight than the Watson penned by Doyle, a welcome addition in my book.
For some, the irreverent tone will be a bridge too far. They will cringe when some of the Scotland Yard skeptics call him a psychopath, or even more degrading, “the freak.” For some it may be a relief that this younger version of Holmes does not take himself too seriously, but we probably will join Mrs. Hudson in a kind of repulsion for his effusive joy as the corpses pile up.
But for anyone who has even secretly longed to heed the summons and go with Holmes into Victorian London’s foggy night air, vanishing into a waiting carriage, the snap of the whip and echoing hoof beats piercing the darkness, this modern day trip is a great alternative.
* I must confess that I cannot get myself to adapt to calling him Sherlock, as just about everyone does in this new eponymous series.
True to his ascetic tastes, Sherlock Holmes eats to live rather than the converse. About all we see of eating in A Study in Pink is his observation of Watson wolfing down great plates of fish and chips or other modern day English offerings in gastronomical mediocrity. We will have to turn to Conan Doyle’s original writings to realize that Homes could be quite the gourmet when he chose.
This recipe relates to Doyle’s original story, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” Of course, you will be relieved to note that the mentioned carbuncle here is a purloined gem tucked away in the crop of a “most unimpeachable Christmas goose” rather than the great purple festering boil that many might have imagined.
Today’s recipe is taken from “A Wild Goosechase: Strange Birds and Bedfellows,” a chapter in Different Drummer’s own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook.
We have chosen a modest side dish from that festive meal of Roast Christmas Goose -- Cold Asparagus in Walnut Drizzle, certainly a nice refresher for our hot summer days. Enjoy.
Cold Asparagus in Walnut Drizzle
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh tender asparagus tips
- 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
- 1 to 2 tablespoons walnut or sesame oil
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup sugar
Cook asparagus in boiling water, covered, for 6 to 7 minutes or until just tender. Drain well and arrange in a serving dish. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over asparagus, lifting it so dressing penetrates. Sprinkle with pepper. Serve slightly chilled.
Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook